Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 16.

Thomas K. Hubbard (ed.), Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Pp. xvii + 558, incl. translation credits, an introduction, bibliographical notes, index and 35 halftones. ISBN 0-520- 23430-8. US$34.95; UK£24.95.

Michael Lambert,
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg

In this book, Hubbard collects ‘in as complete a form as is possible’ (p. xv) translated excerpts from the literary and documentary evidence concerning ‘homosexuality’ in Greece and Rome, from the archaic Greek to the Greco-Roman period, excluding texts written under Christian influence. Introductions to each section, as well as extensive footnotes, aimed at the general reader, and very thorough bibliographical surveys for each period, make this volume an accessible and invaluable resource, which should be in every university library.

Having said this, it is a volume which has to be used with caution (as is the case with many collections of translated texts). Hubbard’s ‘curious reader not immersed in the cultural history of Greece and Rome’ (p. xv) may well find her/himself bewildered; ‘the more experienced students of antiquity’ will probably find themselves (as I did) returning frequently to the original Greek and Latin sources, to check on the word/s translated as ‘fag’, ‘queer’, ‘faggotry’, ‘homosexual inclinations’, ‘pervert’, ‘boy’, ‘youth’, ‘slutting around’, ‘mixed grill of boys’, ‘inborn qualities’, ‘sex-drive’, ‘males beyond nature’, ‘boy-toy’, ‘hairy-arsed queens’, ‘over-aged male hustlers’, ‘wanton lesbianism’, and so on.

From the outset, Hubbard makes it clear that he has collected these texts from a particular ideological perspective on gender, sex and sexuality, which shapes his interpretation of same-sex relations in antiquity. In his preface, he refers to ‘same-gender relations’ or ‘same- gender eroticism’ (p. xv); later he uses the terms ‘same-sex relations or same-sex behaviour’ (p. 447). Clearly, Hubbard does not endorse the careful distinction made between sex and gender in much feminist and gender theory, emanating from scholars, who would adopt the constructionist rather than the essentialist perspective on human sexuality. However, Hubbard does not adopt the term ‘homosexuality’ because he believes that sexual identity is transhistorical, but ‘as a convenient shorthand linking together a range of different phenomena involving same-gender love and/or sexual activity’ (p. 1). In addition, he strongly believes that analysis of a range of ancient texts suggests that ‘some forms of sexual preference were, in fact, considered a distinguishing characteristic of individuals’ (p. 2).

Furthermore, believing that Greek and Roman sexual behaviour cannot be reduced to any single paradigm, Hubbard rejects the ‘age-differential’ model of male same-sex relationships and the active-passive polarity inherent in it, because, he believes, there is enough textual evidence of ‘age-equal activity’ to subvert any interpretation rooted in ‘victim categories’ (p. 11). Although Hubbard never clarifies what fundamental premises of Dover, Boswell, Foucault and Halperin he disagrees with (p. xvi), he presumably refers to the ‘older-younger’ / ‘active-passive’ model which underpins these scholars’ well-known interpretations of Greek male same-sex relations.

However, the evidence collected for ‘age-equal relationships’ is so rare (and problematic) that much of it is not evidence at all, and one is left suspecting that the exception simply proves the ‘age-differential’ rule (for which the evidence in Hubbard’s collection is overwhelming).

For example, in one of Theognis’ poems (excerpt 1.65, p. 44), the editor believes that the fact that other boys find Cyrnus sexually attractive ‘makes it clear that youths were attracted to and slept with other youths of the same age’ (p. 5). However, the Greek (unlike the English translation) clearly distinguishes between the pais (Cyrnus), all the other youths (neoi) and the man (aner), the fictive speaker whose desire is presumably unreciprocated. I fail to see what this poem has to do with age-equal relationships; what is at issue is lack of mutuality in an age-unequal relationship (a familiar topos).

There are other examples of pushing flimsy evidence too far. The entrance of the glamorous Charmides into the palaestra attracts the admiring gazes of the younger boys (5.4., p. 172) but lustfully admiring gazes from one’s contemporaries do not make for ‘intimate male attachments, even among age-equals’ (p. 163). Similarly, I cannot see how Meleager’s poem about the delicate Diodorus who casts a ‘flame upon his young age-mates’(6.40, pp. 294f.) appears to explore an age-equal relationship ‘in which roles become readily reversible’ (p. 271). The Strato poem, about a threesome, to which the editor also refers (p. 271), has no reference to age at all (6.76, p. 303); the other Strato poem cited (6.84., pp. 304f.) is indeed about reciprocal sexual role-playing amongst youths, but it is about brute sex (hence the imagery), not ‘age-equal relationships’. ‘Youth obviously delights youth’ (5.9; pp. 234f.), but I suspect that when it comes to male same-sex relationships in classical antiquity, Plato’s comment on this proverb is more apt: ‘. . . you can even have too much of people your own age’ (p. 235).

With regards to awareness of sexual preferences and characterizing people on the basis of this, I cannot believe that this begins with Archilochus (p. 2), especially as ‘man’s nature is not the same’ (1.1., p. 25) is largely editorial conjecture. A nascent awareness of innate preferences certainly seems to underly Aristophanes’ famous myth in Plato’s Symposium (p. 3), but there is no real evidence to suggest that this was a ‘widespread perception’ (amongst whom precisely?). In fact, the very use of ‘sexual preferences’ and ‘characterizing individuals’ conjures up the thorny issue of identity and its relationship to sexuality (or rather, the discourse around sexuality), a post-modern rather than pre-modern concern.

Even in the later Roman period, I am not sure that there could have been a ‘homosexual subculture’ with its specific fashions, speech and cruising spots: as Williams has perceptively shown,[[1]] sub-cultures of this kind flourish only in environments where the dominant form of masculinity is overtly hostile to penetrative sex between men (which hegemonic Roman masculinity never was). Effeminate cinaedi are indeed the butt of savage satire in Juvenal, Martial, Petronius and Apuleius (all included in Hubbard’s sourcebook), but these are men who publically parade their enjoyment of passivity in such a way that it undermines the prevailing code of masculine values. One can presumably engage in active and passive sex with men without ever being labelled a cinaedus, or ever identifying oneself as one (as do the gaggle of made-up queens in Apuleius).

If a collection of source material in translation is to work effectively, the editor has to be very careful about the translations used. Hubbard notes that he and his team of translators attempted to ‘strike the delicate balance between fidelity to the original and felicity of English expression, further complicated by my demands for uniformity within the volume on certain semantic issues’ (p. xvii). These ‘semantic issues’ are never clarified, but presumably one such issue is the translation of cinaedus, for which Hubbard reluctantly adopts ‘pervert’ in many passages, as he believes that the range of the word’s uses ‘seems potentially to include anyone who is perceived as sexually excessive or deviant’ (p. 7). Yet how is a Latinless reader, interested in understanding Roman attitudes to sexuality, rather than the attitudes of various translators, to cope with the fact that cinaedus is also translated in this collection as ‘faggot’ ( 7.40, p. 327), ‘fag’ (9.25, p. 425; 9.28, p. 426), ‘fairy’ (9.38, p. 431), ‘queer’ (9.39, p. 438) and ‘queen’ (10.15, p. 475)? Hubbard usually indicates (and this is essential) when cinaedus is translated as ‘pervert’, but there should be explanatory comments on all of these.

Some of the translations do not quite attain Hubbard’s ‘delicate balance’ (for example, Daryl Hine’s version of Theocritus Idyll 23, pp. 285ff., and the editor’s translation of Statius Silvae 2.6.21-57, pp. 427f.), but the majority are largely accurate and lively. The editor often indicates (in footnotes) the Greek (transliterated) and Latin for important concepts (e.g. the Greek for ‘friendship, desire and erotic desire’ p. 254, n. 148), but this practice should have been used more consistently, especially if the sourcebook is to be used for any meaningful analysis of love, desire and same-sex relationships in antiquity.[[2]]


[[1]] C. A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality. Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (Oxford 1999) 220-24.

[[2]] For the general reader, the notes are, on the whole, exceptionally helpful. A few are not: the Kerameikos is a little more than the northwest part of Athens (p. 61, n.7; cf. n. 65, p. 471); in Rufinus’ poem (Hubbard 6.52, p. 297), in which the poet-lover claims that he is no longer boy- crazy, but is now mad for women, and his discus is now a rattle (clearly a sexual reference), rattle (krotalon) is glossed with: ‘the sistrum was a musical instrument used in the worship of the goddess Isis . . .’! (n. 71). I cannot understand n. 23 on p. 65. There are very few misprints: I noticed Lambert and Szesnat (1984) -- the date should be 1994; Euripid (p. 71, n. 34); Praetonium (p. 377, n. 79).